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Another New Facility for the Dallas Cowboys?

Submitted by Anonymous on May 4th, 2009

So the Dallas Cowboys have lawyered up after a horrific collapse of a rookie practice facility on Saturday.

The quick details: on Saturday afternoon, a strong burst of thunderstorms rolled through the Dallas-Fort Worth area bringing heavy rain, strong winds, and hair-raising thunder and lightening. Though a strong storm, a possible microburst of 65-mph winds may have contributed to the collapse of a Dallas Cowboys indoors practice facility in Irving. Twelve were injured of the seventy or so in the facility; to date, one coach is paralyzed, another coach suffering from a broken vertebra, and several rookies sustained serious injuries. Reports from those inside the facility note that the light poles began to shake violently, then the facility began to rock. Moments later, the facility collapsed, and the twisted steel frame and white canvas-like covers came crashing to the ground.

There are several legal - and common sense - issues to address here:

First: the first lesson anyone learns in Texas is that when severe weather is predicted - and strikes - it's much safer to be in smaller structures, not 85-ft tall semi-permanent structures such as this facility. Coaches and other administrative personnel should have been much more responsible regarding safety, especially in light of expected strong weather. This could be a pretty good premise liability case.

Second: as noted above, the Cowboys have lawyered up, but it's unclear as to whether they're trying to shield themselves from liability (see above - there's a possibility for a negligence suit regarding players and potentially coaches injuries), OR whether the Cowboys intend to pursue legal action against the company who designed, manufactured, constructed, and/or maintained this facility. This type of case would be a products liability case, and would be subject to a lesser level of scrutiny than other types of personal injury cases.

But maybe I can answer my own question. Levi McCathern, a Dallas-area lawyer, has been called on to represent the Cowboys during this time. And as his online profile boasts, McCathern:

"...specializes in catastrophic damage litigation and is routinely called upon by the largest names in insurance to defend all types of specialized, high-damage claims. "

This is certainly a catastrophic damage situation. But "called on by insurance" companies means only one thing: he's going to fight to limit the damages owed to Cowboys players and staff for their injuries.

Interesting that the Dallas Cowboys would take this route. Perhaps there is other counsel though. In 2007, a Pennsylvania court found that Summit, the company who manufactures these structures, were guilty of a defective design. The judge in the case wrote that the structure collapsed "under the weight of the first significant snowfall" of the year, conditions that "would have been easily tolerated by the building had it been properly designed and constructed." This design, however, is slightly different than the Cowboys facility, but gives a hint that design defects aren't out of the question with this company.

The expert witness in the Pennsylvania case may or may not be retained in the Cowboys case; all questions have been deflected back to Levi McCathern, legal counsel for the Cowboys.

Third: it seems one side has a legal jump on the other in this case. While players and coaches are focused solely on returning to good health over the next couple weeks, in less than twenty-four hours, the Cowboys organization is already speaking with lawyers, retaining experts, and developing their case. Perhaps it's all in defense; the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is looking into the case, not the first time for the Cowboys. Will the OSHA legal team be enough to protect the interests of players, coaches, and staff injured in the collapse? Maybe - but likely not.

So what happens from here? Stay tuned. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram will be antsy for information and analysis following this event. And the Rasansky Law Firm will provide continual updates on this tragic situation. Our best to players, coaches, and families affected by the events.